Despite behind-the-scenes struggles, the Donaukanal remains the place to be when the temperature rises

As a tourist couple is taking a selfie on the Schwedenbrücke, just a few feet below them a slightly tipsy older gentleman is dancing ecstatically to jazz played by a band on an improvised stage under the bridge. He is wearing a “Euro 2008 Austria/Hungary” T-shirt and occasionally stops shaking his hips to take a large sip of wine from a Tetra pack.

It may have been the city’s torn obsession with the shabby that conquered orderly Viennese hearts and turned the promenades along the Donaukanal, a side arm of the mighty Danube, into the go-to nightlife spot during summer. Contrary to our intoxicated friend, most visitors don’t bring their own but enjoy drinks at one of the bars that have popped up in recent years. Lately, the murky Freunderlwirtschaft (cronyism) involved in giving away the few available concessions has come under major scrutiny, turning the Donau-kanal into a political issue when several popular venues lost their spots. At this point, nobody really knows who will serve mojitos and Lillet spritzers to thirsty urbanites next summer – but for now, here are some of this season’s best waterfront watering holes.


1. Summer Stage

Italian, Caribbean, Thai and Austrian food peacefully coexist on the Summer Stage, ostensibly Vienna’s largest terrace and one of the first canalside developments. If you need a good spot to watch the World Cup in June, call soon to make a reservation. An institution of Vienna’s warmer months that feels a little less hip after all these years, it’s still ideal for a romantic date night or a casual after-work drink.

9., Roßauer Lände 17, Mon-Sat 17:00-1:00 Sun & Holidays 15:00-1:00, (01) 319 66 44 (till 16:00) & (01) 315 52 02 (after 16:00) –

2. Otto Wagner Schützenhaus

Tired of burgers and aperol spritz? All you want is a Schnitzel and an Ottakringer? The Schützenhaus offers both in a dapper atmosphere, far from the madding crowd around it. Constructed in 1908 according to plans by Otto Wagner, the building was used to regulate water levels via a retractable dam and was considered a masterpiece of technical engineering in its day. As Vienna just can’t throw away anything old, all the machinery was retained during the renovation in 2010 when it became a restaurant.

2., Obere Donaustraße 26, Mon-Sat 11:00 – 00:00; Sun and Holidays 11:00-16:00, (01) 212 42 22 –

3. Tel Aviv Beach

If we had to identify the highest hipster density on the canal, it would be here: catering to Vienna’s not-so-secret longing to be an easy-going beach town, this outpost of the NENI culinary empire embodies Levantine chic, serving falafels, wraps and cocktails as you lounge on beach chairs imported from Israel and New York while DJs or live bands play. Whether it’s the stylish crowd or the fancy drinks, your Instagram account will buzz after a visit.

2., Obere Donaustraße 65, Daily 12:00-0:00, (01) 585 20 20 –

4. Adria Wien

This favorite among German expats is one of the more established venues on the canal, serving Mediterranean food and drinks since 2005. Being used to poor weather, our northern neighbors might have chosen Adria Wien because its bar is in a former greenhouse – meaning the party doesn’t end if it rains. Some city officials consider the worn structure an eyesore and might have it demolished at the end of summer, leaving the Teutonic diaspora to migrate elsewhere.

2., Obere Donaustraße 77, Mon-Fri 15:00 -1:00 & Sat-Sun 12:00-1:00, 0660 127 17 84 –

5. Blumenwiese

The name (German for “Flower Meadow”) may be the most original feature of the Donaukanal’s latest edition, open since May: Serving trendy edamame, beef tartare and – unavoidable in Vienna these days – lots of burgers, this is a place where “you can break out of the everyday, dance and celebrate” – or so its website claims. While it won’t win the creative concept of the year award, you can never have too much of a good thing.

2., Donaukanal Höhe Obere Donaustraße 100, Mon-Sat 11:00-00:00 Sun 11:00-22:00, 0664 912 65 59 –

6. Motto am Fluss

Whether you’re grabbing a coffee to watch the sunset or enjoying a multicourse dinner, Motto am Fluss has earned its reputation as a gourmet temple with an unbeatable view. Definitely the priciest option on the canal, it’s well worth it: its mix of Viennese and international cuisine is outstanding as is the service – if you like meat, get one of its steaks. Very cosmopolitan, it would be the place to people watch for A-listers – if any ever came to visit Austria’s capital.

1., Franz-Josefs-Kai 2, RESTAURANT: Daily 11:30-14:30 & 18:00-2:00, (01) 252 55 10, CAFE: Daily 8:00-00:00, (01) 252 55 –

7. Badeschiff

A former freight ship permanently anchored off Schwedenplatz, the Badeschiff pool-on-a-boat is a great place to get a coffee or beer on the upper sundeck in between dips. Unfortunately, it has suffered a little from its popularity in recent years, with customer service and food quality suffering. We recommend coming after dark – its cargo hold has been converted into a club with its own bowling lane and is known for legendary parties.

1., Donaukanal Daily 8:00-1:00 , 0660 312 47 03 –

8. Herrmann Strandbar

This urban beach bar has been a mainstay for the last 13 years and deserves major credit for transforming the Donaukanal from a seedy backwater into the urban playground it is today. On weekends and holidays, it offers a beach breakfast prepared by Health Kitchen but it might be hard to get a seat. A little known fact: Herrmann Strandbar also serves lunch menus for €7.90 on weekdays, when it‘s much less crowded.

3., Herrmannpark, Obere Weißgerberstraße, Daily 10:00-2:00 –

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Andreas Rainer is a journalist and writer based in Vienna. He lived across the pond in the U.S. and Canada for three years which gave him a new love for Vienna from an outsider's perspective. He headed the Vienna branch of the San Francisco based food app Yelp for the past six years, making him a prime source of insider knowledge on new restaurants hidden bars. He authored the Guide Book Vienna for Germans (2017) and made the short list (2015) and long list (2016) for the "Wortlaut" short fiction contest, tweets at @an_rainer